A view of the former Victorian general store that has housed antiques at Ohmega Salvage since 1997. Credit: Joanne Furio

Goodbye, glass door knobs. So long, cast iron tub feet, plaster ceiling medallions, milk glass shades and ironwork from the old Sears building in Oakland. 

Ohmega Salvage — a cornerstone of Berkeley’s salvage business for the past 49 years — is selling off everything and shutting down. Owner Katherine Davis blamed the pandemic and changing tastes no longer interested in quirky, old stuff and antiques.  

“We’ve been losing money for years,” said Davis, who took over after her husband’s death in 2012. “The business is not what it used to be. There’s less people buying architectural salvage.”

Longtime employee Steve Smith and owner Katherine Davis in Ohmega Salvage’s store. Credit: Joanne Furio

With Ohmega’s closing, there will be only one architectural salvage company left in Berkeley: Urban Ore, founded in 1980. 

Victor Lab and Bob Ford founded Ohmega during a time when many of the Bay Area’s World War II buildings were being demolished. Salvaging was not only trendy (think: giant spools as tables), but kept the buildings’ treasures from ending up at the dump, in keeping with the “reduce, reuse, recycle” ethos of the 1970s. Ohmega’s first inventory consisted of the remains of a two-story Oakland Naval Supply building that Lab and Ford had to deconstruct. Ohmega’s first location was in the Nexus building at Bancroft Street and San Pablo Avenue.

In 1978, the partners bought the lot at 2407 San Pablo Ave. and relocated. As more young homeowners began renovating their vintage homes, the business grew and the Ohmega purchased an adjacent parcel at the corner of Channing Way. In 1986, Steve Drobinsky, a former stock option trader and self-proclaimed “dumpster diver,” purchased the business. 

“Over the years we built up a really good relationship with a lot of local contractors who knew what we were about and wanted to see the stuff saved,” said Steve Smith, who’s been working at the shop since 1999. 

Antique tub feet are just one of the salvage categories that has made Ohmega popular among those with old homes. Credit: Joanne Furio
Door hinges line a wall at Ohmega Salvage. Credit: Joanne Furio

In 1997, after being featured in an episode of This Old House, “our business exploded,” said Smith. He described the dot-com era as “boom years.” Ohmega moved across the street a year later to a lot that included outdoor space and the former Westside General Store, dating to 1894.

“Steve realized that some customers weren’t comfortable shopping at a junkyard,” Smith said. “He wanted to have a more familiar space like an antiques shop where everything was curated and displayed nicely.”

All vintage and antique merchandise has been discounted, some up to 50%. Markdowns will continue until everything is sold. Smith noted that the store will honor store credits, no matter how old. All sales are final. 

“Times have really changed,” Smith said. “In the old days, we used to get kids from Cal who wanted to get cool, funky stuff to decorate the dorms. In the last 10 to 15 years, they’re doing more IKEA. Cal has to put dumpsters in front of the dorms to haul the stuff away. It’s really too bad.” 

Ohmega Salvage, 2400 San Pablo Ave. (at Channing Way), Berkeley. Phone: 510-204-0767. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Connect via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Joanne Furio is a longtime journalist and writer of creative nonfiction. Originally from New York, she has been a staff writer, an editor and a freelance magazine writer. More recently, she was a contributing...